Here’s how you let St Paul guide you in becoming an evangelising disciple of the Lord – and focusing the inspiration so many received through the experience of World Youth Day
By Mark Shea
You may not be able to travel ‘to the ends of the earth,’ but you, too, can spread the Gospel.
Ask your average Catholic about evangelisation and you get a mumble and a shrug. Evangelisation? That’s what evangelicals do, isn’t it?
It’s not that Catholics think it’s bad. Rather, it is that most Catholics simply have no idea what to do. So, we console ourselves with that saying of St Francis of Assisi that he never actually said: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”
That would be great advice – if we really were preaching the Gospel at all times by our lives. But for many of us, evangelising is near the bottom of our to-do liSt
We shift uncomfortably in our seats as we drive past the little fundamentalist church sign that says, “If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” We tell ourselves that our faith is “deeper” then mere talky evangelical chatter.
Here’s the thing: While it’s perfectly true that a faith that is all talk is shallow faith, a faith that we cannot articulate if our lives depended on it is not an improvement. St Peter tells us, “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Pt 3:15-16, RSV).
St Paul understood this. And in this Year of Paul, the Church calls us to take a chance and tell people about the enormous treasure of the Catholic faith. She insists that it’s better to try, and fail, then to not try. Many Catholics wonder if there is some sort of technique they need to master in order to bear witness to their faith. For such folk, Pope Benedict XVI has liberating news.
In his announcement of the Year of Paul last June, the pope said that Paul’s success was not due to some “refined strategy” of salesmanship or philosophical wrangling. Instead, he said that Paul’s achievement came from his extraordinary personal involvement springing from his total dedication to Christ, despite all obstacles.
In short, Paul really believed this stuff. He acted exactly like a man who really had met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus and was now convinced that Jesus had conquered death, forgiven his sins and laid upon him the charge to tell the world. Because he really believed, he was willing to “pay personally for [his] faith in Christ, in every situation.”
Trust in the Spirit
Pope Benedict knows this because he has read Paul, who states: “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1-5, RSV).
“The great thing about being Catholic is that you can plagiarise and call it “being faithful to the Tradition.”
Paul no more felt equal to the task of evangelism than you or I do. His secret was not a technique or a philosophy. It was that Paul believed that if he trusted in the Spirit of Jesus to provide the power and the wisdom, the Spirit would come through.
And he did.
We can do the same. The great thing about being Catholic is that you can plagiarise and call it “being faithful to the Tradition.” Not a theological brainiac when somebody asks you what Catholics believe? You don’t have to be clever. Go find a Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Not particularly confident that your saintliness is such that merely knowing you is to be exposed to the living presence of Christ? Welcome to normal Catholic life.
You don’t have to be Mother Teresa or some other spiritual giant. Just ask a friend to Mass.
They will, we are solemnly assured by God himself, have a genuine exposure to the actual, spiritual and physical presence of Jesus Christ himself.
Those are but two simple ways in which you can bear witness. The key is not mastering the techniques of Paul. The key is having the faith of Paul that Christ will keep his promise to us.
Mark Shea writes from Washington and is Senior Content editor for Catholic Exchange.com.